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Winter 2005-06

Rural Health: People, Food, Communities
RDLN Healthcare Initiative   RDLN Co-Sponsors Citizen Health Hearing in Alabama Blackbelt  

Shirley McClain attends Minority Health Conference

Healthcare Issues Report - Rural Advocates Needed
by Shirley McClain

Minority Health Conference On January 9th, 2006 I attended the Office of Minority Health "National Summit on Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities" in Washington DC. There were 2,000 attendees. I was proud to represent RDLN. I had never seen so many MDs, MPHs, JDs., MBAs, and RNs in any one place. I quickly noticed that there were not many folk like me present. Ethnic diversity was there; but I saw something I would call classicism.

During the Obesity Institute, for example, the panelists gave the results of their research, but no one gave information on program implementation. I praised them for their wonderful research work, but I also asked them about the disconnect. I asked how low-income women participate other than completing a survey. Responses to my question consumed the remaining time left in the Institute -- 30 minutes.

The experts recognize the need for participation from the community. At one plenary, Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith MD, Associate Dean for Faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health, spoke of the importance of having community voices represented in the formation of healthcare policy. At another, the speaker asked the community representatives present to stand up, and only a handful came to their feet.

Lack of funds for participation in such conferences is one barrier to more effective participation by grassroots people.

RDLN Healthcare Initiative

RDLN is working with four poor rural communities to test the idea that community-based health initiatives have a better chance of preventing and controlling diseases related to weight, such as diabetes in such communities than do programs based in mainstream healthcare institutions which need to figure out how to reach out to the community and cross cultural divides.

RDLN has submitted a proposal to Heath Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and HHS' "Healthy Behaviors in Women" for a pilot project in four counties with active members of the RDLN Network: Baker County, Georgia (Southwest Georgia Project, Shirley Sherrod); Mora County, NM (Helping Hands/Mujeres Unidas, Anita LaRan); Pickens County, Alabama (Cole Evangelistic Ministries, Michelle Cole), and Taos County, NM (Taos County Economic Development Corp., Pati Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand);

The RDLN project emphasizes peer support and enjoyment rather than self-denial. There will be voluntary health screenings, educational sessions, shopping expeditions, cooking lessons and potlucks. A multicultural Rural Women's Cookbook for Health is a likely byproduct. Group walks and/or other moderate exercise will also be scheduled.

An Advisory Board is in formation. Dr. Annie King, Food Science Professor at UC Davis, Sarah Kovner, former aide to Donna Shalala at HHS, Sherry Salway Black, Executive Director, National Ovarian Cancer Alliance;and Twila Martin-Kekahbah, member, Advisory Committee office of Minority Health, HHS have agreed to serve.

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RDLN Co-Sponsors Citizen Health Hearing in Alabama Blackbelt

Billie Jean Young, son Keith and grandson Jarkeith
Billie Jean Young, who organized the Hearing, with her son Keith (r), who believes his diagnosis and treatment changed when he went on disability because providers knew money would be available for his care. Billie Jean's grandson Jarkeith (center) was turned away from a hospital where was taken on an emergency basis during a family reunion at age of six with severe third degree burns on his body.  
On March 17, 2006, RDLN co-sponsored a citizens hearing on healthcare at the St. James Hotel in Selma, Alabama. The event was organized by the Southwest Alabama Association of Rural and Minority Women under the leadership of Billie Jean Young. The Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative aand HealthcareNow! were also co-sponsors.

Starry Krueger of RDLN noted the prevalence of health challenges within our rural Network of people in low-income areas with high percentages of people of color.

Billie Jean of SWAR-MW, former Chair of RDLN's Board of Directors, stated that 80 counties in Alabama don't have hospitals, many sick people have to go eighty miles to reach a hospital, and people often use an ambulance simply as a means of transportation. When her own father was sick, the closest hospital refused to admit him, and he died the next day. She stated that our health care system will not work until the profit motive is removed.

Sophia Bracy-Harris, Moderator


Sophia Bracy-Harris (right), Alabama Lead for the Southern Rural black Women's Intiative, Executive Director of the Federation of Community Child Care Centers of Alabama (FOCAL), and an RDLN Field Advisor, recalled the change in voting rights that came though Bloody Sunday in Selma in 1965 and stated that people now need to take responsibility to bring about the change that is needed in the health care system today.

She stated that health care is a human right and said "We can stand up for a change. We can cause America to change its health care policy."

Testimony from RDLN Leaders

Testifying about the availability and quality of health care in the Blackbelt were four community representatives, including RDLN graduates Yvonne Hampton and Earnest Johnson, RDLN Leader Meredith Cole, and Keith Young, a former teacher, who is the son of Billie Jean Young.


RDLN graduate Earnest Johnson
RDLN graduate Earnest Johnson has diabetes and is on dialysis. His medicine is very expensive in spite of the fact that he is insured. He was encouraged by Keith Young to go on home dialysis. More about Earnest


Yvonne Hampton
RDLN Leader Yvonne Hampton and her husband (who needs to take 15-20 pills a day) has to stretch to buy just some of the medicine she needs for a bad back and other conditions. More about Yvonne



"We are
too poor to be quiet."

-Yvonne Hampton

  RDLN Board Member John Zippert
John Zippert, RDLN Board Member, covered the meeting for his newspaper The Greene County Democrat. As Board Chair of the Greene County Hospital, he also streesed the need to support local health care institutions. John is Director of Program Operations for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

Yvonne Hampton
RDLN Leader Michelle Cole, an LPN and ordained minister, has diabetes. Even though she is a health care worker, she, like many others in her field, cannot afford health insurance for herself.

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